8 Ideas for Making the Dentist an Enjoyable Experience for Kids

8 Ideas for Making the Dentist an Enjoyable Experience for Kids

Many kids are scared of going to the dentist, and often, non-pediatric dentists are unsure how to handle fear from younger children. Going to the dentist is an experience that kids will hopefully continue yearly for the rest of their lives. Oral health is an important part of overall health, and dentists and parents must do their best to make the teeth-cleaning experience positive. These are eight things that you can do to help your child have a positive teeth-cleaning experience.

1: Show Up with Your Child

Make sure you book appointments with your child or schedule your child’s appointment for a time when you know you can attend. Children who experience anxiety at the dental office often experience more anxiety when they come with a babysitter, relative, or someone other than their primary caregiver. However, if you are a parent with anxiety around dental cleanings, it’s best to attend your child’s appointment but not schedule your own at the same time. Your child might pick up on your anxiety during your teeth cleaning.

2: Choose the Right Dentist

The way dentists treat their younger patients varies. If you can, try to find a pediatric dentist or a dentist who routinely sees kids. If you want to take your child to your family dentist, call and ask which dentist and dental hygienist (the person who will clean your child’s teeth) are the most skilled with children. Staff will know who has the most experience dealing with little ones.

3: Role Play at Home

Kids love to dress up and role-play as the mailman or the doctor, but what about the dentist? A great way to make the dentist experience fun for your child is to role-play it at home. Pretend to be a dentist who is cleaning your child’s teeth, and then let them pretend with you.

4: Talk about Teeth Cleaning

Talk to your child about teeth cleaning and why having a clean mouth is important. Talk about the gums, the teeth, and the tongue. Instead of using words like “pain” or “ouch,” try using positive and fun language. Tell your child you want “clean” teeth and “healthy” gums.

5: Appointment Timing

Children tend to do best at the dentist when they are the most awake and alert. If they need a nap or have just woken up from a nap, they are less likely to want to open their mouth or engage with the dentist. Time the appointment for your child’s awake and alert (most likely early morning to mid-morning).

6: Make the Appointment Fun

Outside of the teeth cleaning, your child’s appointment is unlikely to be engaging. There will be waiting time before and after the teeth cleaning where your child may feel bored or have time to feel nervous. You can help your child by making it fun and bringing along a few fun toys. Consider a book, a stuffed animal, a small handheld game, a little car or truck, or other favorite toys.

To make the dental appointment more enjoyable for your child, you can also involve them in the preparation process. Let them choose a special toy or activity to bring with them, giving them a sense of control and excitement about the visit. Additionally, you can play games or engage in calming activities together while waiting, such as storytelling or drawing. These simple yet effective strategies can help alleviate any boredom or anxiety your child may experience and make the dental visit a positive experience for them.

7: Distract

Try to distract your child from thinking about the dentist cleaning while at the dentist office unless they are positively talking about and excited to see the dentist. Talking about other topics if your child is nervous can help soothe anxiety.

8: Praise

Make sure that you praise your child after the dental visit. Talk about how brave they were to go and how well they did. If your child did not do well, try to focus on the parts where they did do well. Positive reinforcement through praise can help them do better next time.

Maintaining oral health is critical for overall health. Continue to work with your child as they grow to help them become more accustomed to the dental office environment and see teeth cleaning as a positive experience.